Going Back to 1984: The evolution of Bruce Campbell


In 1979, Bruce Campbell was a twenty-one-year-old inexperienced actor working on Evil Dead. Five years later in 1984, he found himself in a starring role this time in a film sans blood and gore. Going Back is a rare gem that gives us a glimpse into the evolution of an actor.

“Time doesn’t stand still.” – Brice Chapman

It Isn’t a Horror Movie

If you noticed, the above title references a controversy that has been lighting up social media since Stephen King’s IT opened on screens a few days ago. Not only is IT a bona fide horror movie it is your “old comfy slippers King” horror movie. What do I mean by that?

At the core of this mega hit movie interspersed with the scares and frightening imagery is a story about friendship. The bond that so many desire but so few really achieve. We all long for someone that has our back and loves us unconditionally no matter what, it is only human nature.

What does this have to do with Going Back? It isn’t a fear fest. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Although a major icon within the horror genre stars in this little indie effort, it is a drama that shares some common themes with the movie that floats.

Strong alliances, a loss of the youthful idealism of childhood and the fact that time is fleeting are three traits tying the two disparate films together. Although this is a site dedicated to all things horror oriented, differences can be celebrated and a love of film in general is enough.

The Road Less Traveled

According to the movie’s website, Going Back started life as a short story by artist and teacher, Ron Teachworth. In 1981, he received a grant from the Michigan Council for the Arts thus enabling him to turn his story into a feature film.

Through his association with Ron as his “artist in residence” at the high school, Bruce was cast as Brice Chapman, the lead in the film. Following suit was Christopher Howe as his best friend, Cleveland “Clee” Neal, Perry Mallette as Jack Bodell, Susan Waderlow Yamasaki as Cindy and Vern Teachworth as Cindy’s father.

This was Bruce’s second film fresh off of Evil Dead. In his words, from his book, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor, “Up to this time, I had mastered the prolonged scream, the horrific recoil, the slam against a wall, but I had never had to do what would be considered acting. “Going Back” was fun because there wasn’t an ounce of blood of anywhere in sight–just a strange thing called dialogue.”

It’s All about the Journey

Bruce Campbell – Going Back – Jack Bodell – R S T Productions

Set in 1964, Going Back is the story of two friends, Brice Chapman and Cleveland “Clee” Neal who decide to take a road trip before heading off to college in the fall. It isn’t all peaches and cream on this trip because they get caught in a rainstorm and they seem to not have luck with hitchhiking.

Finally, an old farmer, Jack Bodell agrees to pick them up. He takes them back to his place and offers them a hot meal and a place to bunk for the night. During dinner, Jack’s neighbor, Cindy shows up. Smitten immediately, Brice cajoles her into staying for a little while. Of course, she has to leave abruptly.

While Clee is getting to know Jack, Brice is making plans to see Cindy. Over the next few days, Jack becomes a surrogate father to Clee and Brice and Cindy fall in love with one another. As with anything in life, all good things must come to an end.

Fast forward five years later and Clee and Brice meet up in a bar after not having seen each other for a while. After catching up, Brice suggests they return to Jack’s to see what’s going on. Plus, he wants to see Cindy because he still carries a torch for her.

Tom Wolfe Was Right

Bruce Campbell – Going Back – Cindy – RST Productions

When they arrive at Jack’s they notice that the farm is in a state of disrepair. Jack’s health has deteriorated and he has just given up on life. As for Cindy, life has moved on for her and she is married. Both situations are equally sad for all parties involved.

One of the best quotes to sum up the entire experience is spoken by Jack. “People who grasp for great moments usually end up clutching straws.” Brice and Clee had high expectations. Reality can be harsh. Life is a series of moments that can never be recreated. You don’t get a re-do button. What you do get are memories to be cherished.

Bruce’s Coming of Age as an Actor

Bruce Campbell – Going Back – Cindy 2 – RST Productions

Going Back is a sheer delight for anyone who has enjoyed Bruce Campbell’s works throughout the years. Why would I say that? Because in his second film, you start to see flashes of the actor that he would become.

In this performance, he is less stilted and more natural. There is an ease to him which makes his effort as Brice believable. He is able to become a character because he is actually speaking and not screaming or running for his life from some crazed Deadite.

More from Horror on TV

There are several scenes that stand out where a certain look or turn of phrase are like a harbinger of familiar routines to come.

When he is with Cindy in an abandoned car, and they are clearing debris out of the backseat you can hear traces of the sarcastic wit that will grace his later performances particularly as the older Ash in Ash vs Evil Dead.

Another touching scene that resonates is the way that he looks at Cindy while she is reading a poem that she has written for him. It makes the sequence in Evil Dead where Ash gifts Linda with her necklace pale by comparison. His facial movements are subtle but his body language conveys the depth of feeling that he has for her. Campbell is best when he is reserved thus rendering him more truthful.

This is perhaps the most gut wrenching and heartbreaking turn in the movie. When Jack informs him, that Cindy is married you can see the hurt expression in his eyes. In a few seconds, he experiences the pain of unrequited love without going over the top with emoting. This is the genesis of his future performance as Elvis in Bubba Ho-Tep. “Always the hopes… never the fulfillments.”

Full Circle

This past season on Ash vs Evil Dead particularly in the episode, “Delusion,” Campbell gives one of his best performances ever. Ash finds himself in an asylum, Baal is manipulating him into believing that he is losing his mind. When Linda comes to visit him, he is distraught and clearly not himself. It is fascinating to compare a later scene like this in the actor’s career with his work in Evil Dead II.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bruce recently and we discussed upcoming projects. He is hoping that the film Highly Functional is released in the near future. In it, he plays Chili Youngfield, a past his prime country singer. According to the actor, “It’s completely different from pretty much anything I have done.”

If you enjoy Campbell’s work, check out Going Back. It definitely is not disappointing. It is one of those rare finds that does stand the test of time.

Next: Bruce Campbell Interview: Evil Dead hero more than blood and boomsticks

Have you seen Bruce in any of his earlier films? If so, which ones? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below. We want to hear from you!